Digital Equipment Corporation should not be confused with the unrelated companies Digital Research, Inc or Western Digital, although the latter manufactured the LSI-11 chipsets used in DEC's low end PDP-11/03 computers.
Initially focusing on the small-end of the computer market allowed DEC to grow without its potential competitors making serious efforts to compete with them. Their PDP series of machines became popular in the 1960s, especially the PDP-8, widely considered to be the first successful minicomputer. Looking to simplify and update their line, DEC replaced most of their smaller machines with the PDP-11 in 1970, eventually selling over 600,000 units and cementing DECs position in the industry. Originally designed as a follow-on to the PDP-11, DEC's VAX-11 series was the first widely used 32-bit minicomputer, sometimes referred to as "superminis". These were able to compete in many roles with larger mainframe computers, such as the IBM System/370. The VAX was a best-seller, with over 400,000 sold, and its sales through the 1980s propelled the company into the second largest in the industry. At its peak, DEC was the second largest employer in Massachusetts, second only to the state government.
The rapid rise of the business microcomputer in the late 1980s, and especially the introduction of powerful 32-bit systems in the 1990s, quickly eroded the value of DEC's systems. DEC's last major attempt to find a space in the rapidly changing market was the DEC Alpha 64-bit RISC processor architecture. DEC initially started work on Alpha as a way to re-implement their VAX series, but also employed it in a range of high-performance workstations. Although the Alpha processor family met both of these goals, and, for most of its lifetime, was the fastest processor family on the market, it did little to affect the bottom line or repair the company's status.
The company was acquired in June 1998 by Compaq, in what was at that time the largest merger in the history of the computer industry. At the time, Compaq was focused on the enterprise market and had recently purchased several other large vendors. DEC was a major player overseas where Compaq had less presence. However, Compaq had little idea what to do with its acquisitions, and soon found itself in financial difficulty of its own. The company subsequently merged with Hewlett-Packard in May 2002. As of 2007 some of DEC's product lines were still produced under the HP name.